14 February, 2021
Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps

The most successful Olympians could be recognized by various titles. This effort is to identify the most successful multiple Olympic medallists at both Summer Olympic Games and Winter Olympic Games.

The American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian, having won an incomparable 28 Olympic medals in both individual and team events (23 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze). Phelps has also won more individual events than any other Olympian, with 16 medals (13 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze).

Behind Phelps is the Soviet Gymnast Larisa Latynina who had won a total of 18 Olympic medals with 9 gold medals. Finland’s athlete Paavo Nurmi is the only other to secure 9 gold medals amongst 17 Olympians who have won 12 or more Olympic medals of any colour over their sporting careers.

Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjorgen is the most decorated Winter Olympian, with 15 medals (8 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze). The ‘Years’ listed for each athlete in the table include only the Olympic Games in which they won medals.

Amongst all Olympic sports gymnastics and swimming have dominated the scene with 6 gymnasts and 5 swimmers earning berths amongst top multiple medal winners. The other sport that has managed 2 slots in the list is cross-country skiing. Single appearances include athletics, canoeing, fencing and biathlon. Amongst the countries, top honours have gone to the United States with 5 Olympians securing berths with Soviet Union/ Russia coming a close second with 4 Olympians whilst Japan and Norway have chipped in with 2 slots each.

28 medals by Phelps

Michael Fred Phelps II (b. Jun 30, 1985) is an American swimmer and the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. He holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (23), Olympic medals in individual events (16), Olympic gold medals in individual events (13), and highest Olympic medals at any single Olympic Games (8).

Phelps is widely regarded as the greatest swimmer of all time and is often considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. Phelps earned the nicknames, “The Baltimore Bullet” and “Flying Fish.” He is 1.93 m in height and weighed 88 kilograms. His strokes in swimming included Butterfly, Individual Medley, Freestyle and Backstroke. He is married to Nicole Johnson.

At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Phelps won six gold and two bronze medals. He followed it up with eight gold medals at Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four gold and two silver medals, and at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he won five gold medals and one silver. This made him the most successful athlete of the Games for the fourth Olympics in a row.

Phelps is the long course world record holder in the men’s 400m individual medley as well as the former long course world record holder in the 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, and 200m individual medley. Phelps’s international titles and record-breaking performances have earned him the World Swimmer of the Year Award eight times and American Swimmer of the Year Award eleven times, as well as the FINA Swimmer of the Year Award in 2012 and 2016.

Phelps earned Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year award due to his unprecedented Olympic success in the 2008 Games. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, his fifth Olympics, he was selected by his team to be the flag bearer of the US at the Athletes’ Parade. He retired on August 12, 2016, having won more medals than 161 countries.

18 Olympic medals by Larisa

Larisa Semyonovna Latynina (b. Dec 27, 1934) is a Soviet artistic gymnast. Between 1956 and 1964 she won 14 individual Olympic medals and four team medals. She holds the record for the most Olympic gold medals by a gymnast, male or female, with 9. Her total of 18 Olympic medals was a record for 48 years. She held the record for individual event medals with 14 for 52 years. She is credited with helping to establish the Soviet Union as a dominant force in gymnastics.

15 Olympic Medals by Marit and Nikolai

Marit Bjorgen (b. Mar 21, 1980) is a Norwegian cross-country skier. She headed the medal table at the 2010 Winter Olympics by winning five medals, including three gold. A five-time Olympian, her five Olympic medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games brought her total number of medals up to a record 15, the most by any athlete in Winter Olympics history. In April 2018, she announced her retirement but in May 2020, she announced that she would return to competition with a focus on competing in Vasaloppet in March 2021.

Nikolai Yefimovich Andrianov (1952 – 2011) was a Soviet/Russian gymnast. He held the record for men for the most Olympic medals at 15 (7 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze) until Phelps surpassed him in 2008. Andrianov won the most medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics with 6 individual medals and one team medal. Within the sport of Men’s Artistic Gymnastics, he also holds the men’s record for most individual Olympic medals (12). In many other rankings among all-time medal winners, he ranks very high, easily making him one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time.

13 Olympic Medals by Ole, Boris, Edoardo and Ono

Ole Einar Bjorndalen (b. Jan 27, 1974) is a Norwegian biathlete often referred to by the nickname, the “King of Biathlon.” With 13 Winter Olympic Games medals, he is the most successful biathlete of all time. With 95 World Cup wins, he is ranked first all-time for career victories on the Biathlon World Cup tour, more than twice that of anyone else. Bjorndalen first competed in the Olympic Games at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics, held in his home country of Norway. In 2014, Bjorndalen was elected to an eight-year term at the IOCs athlete commission. He resigned from this role in 2016 as he opted to continue his career.

Boris Anfiyanovich Shakhlin (1932 - 2008) was a Soviet gymnast who was the Rome 1960 Olympic all-around champion. He won a total of 13 medals including seven gold medals at the Summer Olympics 1956 to 1964. He was also the most successful athlete at the 1960 Summer Olympics. He held the record for most Olympic medals by a male athlete record until 1980.

Edoardo Mangiarotti (1919 – 2012) was an Italian fencer. He won a total of 39 Olympic titles and World championships, more than any other fencer in the history of the sport. His Olympic medals include one individual gold, five team gold, five silver, and two bronze medals from 1936 to 1960.

Takashi Ono (b. Jul 26, 1931) is a Japanese gymnast. He competed from 1952 to 1964 Olympics and won five gold, four silver and four bronze medals. Ono was the flag bearer for Japan at the 1960 Olympics, and took the Olympic Oath at the 1964 Games. In 1998, he was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. In 1958 he married Kiyoko Ono, a fellow Olympic gymnast. They have two sons and three daughters; the first two children were born while both parents were actively competing.

12 Olympic Medals by Nine Olympians

Paavo Nurmi (1897 - 1973) was a Finnish middle-distance and long-distance athlete. He won nine gold and three silver medals in his twelve events in the Summer Olympic Games. He was nicknamed the “Flying Finn” or the “Phantom Finn,” as he dominated distance running in the early 20th century. He set 22 official world records at distances between 1500m and 20km. At his peak, Nurmi was undefeated for 121 races at distances from 800m upwards. Throughout his 14-year career, he remained unbeaten in cross country events and in 10,000m.

Nurmi started to flourish during his military service. In his international debut at the 1920 Summer Olympics, he won a silver in 5000m and followed up with two gold medals in 10,000m and the cross country. In 1923, Nurmi became the first runner to hold simultaneous world records in the mile, 5000m and 10,000m, a feat which has never since been repeated. At the 1924 Summer Olympic Games, he won five gold medals. Seemingly unaffected by the Paris heat wave, he set new world records in 1500m and 5000m within an hour.

At the 1928 Summer Olympics, Nurmi recaptured 10,000m title but was beaten for the gold in 5000m and 3000m steeplechase. In 1952, he lit the Olympic Flame at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Nurmi, who rarely ran without a stopwatch in his hand, has been credited for introducing the “even pace” strategy and analytic approach to running, and for making running a major international sport.

Birgit Fischer (b. Feb 25, 1962) is a German kayaker, who has won eight gold medals over six different Olympic Games. After both the 1988 and 2000 games, she announced her retirement, only to return for the subsequent games. She has been both the youngest and the oldest ever Olympic canoeing champion (at 18 and 42). She worked as a sports instructor in the National People’s Army, attaining the rank of Major by the time of German reunification in 1990.

Bjorn Daehlie (b. Jun 19, 1967) is a Norwegian cross-country skier. Bjorn won a total of 29 medals in the Olympics and World Championships during the period 1991 and 1999, which made him the most successful male cross-country skier in history. During his career, Bjorn measured a VO2 max of 96 ml/kg/min. Daehlie’s result was achieved out of season, and physiologist Erlend Hem who was responsible for the testing stated that he would not discount the possibility of the skier passing 100 ml/kg/min at his absolute peak.

Sawao Kato (b. Oct 11, 1946) is a Japanese gymnast and one of the most successful Olympic athletes of all time. Between 1968 and 1976, he won twelve Olympic medals, including eight gold medals. He first competed in the Olympics in 1968, alongside his elder brother Takeshi. They won the team competition, with Sawao also taking gold medals in the all-around and on the floor. aced third in the rings event. Four years later, Kato won gold medals all-around and in the parallel bars and silvers on the horizontal bar and pommel horse. Kato closed out his Olympic career by retaining his title in the parallel bars.

He won more Olympic gold medals than any Japanese Olympian. In 2001, Kato was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Jennifer Thompson (b. Feb 26, 1973) is an American swimmer. She is one of the most decorated Olympians in history with 12 medals that include 8 gold medals, in the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 Summer Olympics. Thompson, began swimming at age 7. In 2006, Thompson received a medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, completed a residency in anesthesiology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and then a fellowship in pediatric anesthesiology at Children’s Hospital of Boston.

Ryan Lochte (b. Aug 3, 1984) is an American swimmer and 12-time Olympic medallist. He is amongst the second-most decorated swimmers in Olympic history measured by total number of medals, behind only Michael Phelps. Lochte’s seven individual Olympic medals rank second in history in men’s swimming (again to Michael Phelps), tied for second among all Olympic swimmers. He currently holds the world records in the 200m individual medley, 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m freestyle relays.

Lochte’s success has earned him Male Swimmer of the Year in 2013, the World Swimmer of the Year Award and the American Swimmer of the Year Award twice. He has also been named the FINA Swimmer of the Year three times.

Lochte specializes in the backstroke and individual medley, but is also a freestyle and butterfly swimmer. He is noted for the speed and distance he attains while kicking underwater.

Dara Torres (b. Apr 15, 1967) is an American swimmer, who is a 12-time Olympic medallist and former world record-holder in three events. Torres is the first swimmer to represent the US in five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008), and at age 41, the oldest swimmer to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. At Beijing 2008, she competed in 50m freestyle, 4x100m medley, and 4x100m freestyle, and won silver medals in all three events.

Torres won five medals at the Sydney 2000, when at age 33, she was the oldest member of the US Olympic swim team. She has also won at least one medal in each of the five Olympics in which she has competed, making her one of only a handful of Olympians to earn medals in five different Games.

Alexei Nemov (b. May 28, 1976) is an artistic gymnast from Russia and one of the most celebrated gymnasts of all time. During his career, he won twelve Olympic medals. His father left him and his mother when Alexei was just a baby. Alexei started gymnastics at age five.

Natalie Coughlin (b. Aug 23, 1982) is an American swimmer and her total of twelve Olympic medals tied for the most all-time medals by a female swimmer. At Beijing 2008, she became the first woman ever to win a 100m backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympics and the first U.S. female athlete in modern Olympic history to win six medals in one Olympiad

(The author highlights spectrum of sports extravaganza. He is the winner of Presidential Academic Award for Sports in 2017 and 2018 and recipient of National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc)